The Salvation of the Jews: Gal 3, Part 2 (Why Then the Law?)

jewish_starNow, this claim raises the obvious problem. If the Law of Moses could not save, why have a Law of Moses? What was its purpose?

(Gal 3:19 ESV) Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring [Jesus] should come to whom the promise had been made [the Jews], and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

“Because of transgressions.” Because of sin.

(Gal 3:21-22 ESV) Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.  22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 

Does the Law contradict the Abrahamic covenant? No. The two covenants had two different purposes. The promise given to Abraham was to bring righteousness (by faith). The Law — indeed “the Scripture” — trapped the Jews in sin to demonstrate the necessity of salvation by faith.

(Gal 3:23 ESV) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

This really is tough language. Again, Paul asserts that the Law was a “prison” — a place for transgressors. Why?

(Gal 3:24 ESV)  24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

“Guardian” is not a good translation for παιδαγωγὸς (paidagogos) — at least, not to a lawyer. The word does not mean “teacher” or “legal parent” but “slave charged as protector” and even “disciplinarian.” The role of the pedagogue was to safely escort a child to school and discipline him as necessary. Hence, the Law was given to teach us God’s will and to show us more completely what is right and wrong — and to impose discipline when needed.

Thayer’s explains,

Among the Greeks and Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood … .

Richard Hays comments,

The idea that Paul is pointing to the Law’s disclosive function of identifying sin as transgression against God’s will is supported by v. 22a, which highlights Scripture’s revelatory function of disclosing the universality of human sin (cf. Rom 3:9–20). Furthermore, the parallel in Rom 4:15 occurs in a passage very similar to Galatians 3:1, dealing with the promise to Abraham, and the key term παράβασις (parabasis) appears in both passages.

At the same time, there is also a good case to be made for the third interpretation (the Law as a restraint on sin), because Paul goes on in vv. 23–25 to explicate the Law’s function as one of restrictive but protective custody, using the metaphor of the παιδαγωγός paidagōgos (see the Commentary on 3:24–25).

It is probably best, then, to read these successive depictions of the Law’s identifying and restraining functions as a twofold explanation of what Paul means by saying that the Law was “added because of transgressions.”

Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” in 2 Corinthians-Philemon (vol. 11 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), n.p. (paragraphing added).

(Gal 3:25-26 ESV)  25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

We are now “sons of God.” The meaning is bigger than most realize. For example, the Israelites are called sons of God in —

(Deu 14:1-2 ESV) “You are the sons of the LORD your God. … 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 

In other words, Paul is declaring both Jews and Gentiles Israelites, chosen, treasured by God.

But he is also referring, I believe, to —

(Psa 2:7-8 ESV)  7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”

Jesus himself is the Son of God because he is the Messiah and so the King of Israel. If we’re all “sons of God” then we participate in the blessings of Jesus. We are credited with his righteousness. We are God’s child. We are royalty. We are priests.

So why “through faith”? Well, because of the promise made to Abraham, and because of what Paul said to Peter —

(Gal 2:15-16 NET)  15 “We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,  16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

“Faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (pisteos Iesou Christou), that is, “faith of Jesus Christ” — as Tyndale translated the phrase back before the KJV. Modern translators go with either “faith in” or “faithfulness of,” with “faithfulness of” gaining the most recent traction, because it makes so much sense.

Jesus was faithful to God’s covenant with Abraham, as well as the later covenants, by giving himself on the cross. We join with Jesus by our own faith/faithfulness. We become like Jesus by faith because faith, in the Greek, includes faithfulness. We are faithful to the faithful One.

Abraham’s faith was not just believing God to be God, but believing his promises and then living a life built on that faith. Abraham’s faith and faithfulness were inseparable, as shown by his willingness to offer Isaac on Mt. Moriah — the place where Jesus was crucified. “God will provide.”

(Gal 3:27-28 ESV)  27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Now, I’m getting more and more hesitant to quote passages that mention baptism, because inevitably the comment box will fill up with regurgitated arguments about the moment when salvation attaches to the convert — completely ignoring whatever point Paul was actually intending to make.

In this case, his point is that, by becoming “in Christ” we become clothed with Christ. “Put on” is the verb used for putting on clothes. Hence, God looks at us and sees Jesus. Of course, we as faithful followers become more and more like Jesus while clothed with him.

Another consequence of this clothing is that distinctions between Jews and Greeks go away. We’re all Jewish carpenters. (There is, of course, much more to be said on this important passage, but not on today’s theme.)

(Gal 3:29 ESV) 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

If you belong to Jesus, then you are a descendant of Abraham (borrowing your Jewishness from your Savior), and therefore an heir — as God promised Abraham.

Hence, as an heir, you are not a slave — and therefore not under the Law.

(Gal 4:1-5 ESV)  I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,  2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.  4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

So notice Paul’s logic. The Gentiles are saved by faith by becoming Jewish through faith in Jesus. Because they are Jewish, they are heirs, children, not slaves, and so recipients of the promise to Abraham to save by faith, blessing the nations.

Now, this being the case, it must be true that the promise to Abraham was always in effect — until Jesus and until now. It did not jump over the Mosaic age. Indeed, Paul pretty plainly argues that it was in effect throughout the Mosaic age — because the Law was insufficient to save. “The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin.” It just didn’t work as a means of salvation. It still doesn’t.

But this doesn’t mean the Jews were lost or only saved from the moment a sacrifice was made until their next sin. They were, just like Gentiles today, saved by faith thanks to God’s promises to Abraham.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to The Salvation of the Jews: Gal 3, Part 2 (Why Then the Law?)

  1. rich constant says:

    That’s a big amen brother Ven

  2. rich constant says:

    That just makes me feel great.
    right now.
    I feel like I’m playing in the same ballpark with somebodY.
    no that was just so easy for you J

  3. rich constant says:

    And what is that better promise that spoken of in Hebrews.
    Through the faithfulness of Christ and having like faith we get life with him through the spirit just like his son did. That would be eternal life. Because that was the will of God before the foundation of the world for his creation. His work was restoration, give us eternal life he is bringing us back, and who is working in this to bring us back, yes an eternal plan, the scheme of redemption in God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
    To be sure grace through faith.
    understanding the Scriptures he is proving his steadfast love, his faithfulness to his word, and by giving us the spirit of promise he has truly redeemed us. Through his righteous Faithful son to his will and by giving us the Spirit of promise he has truly redeemed, we are in his present. and he knows we are truly faithfully working out our salvation with fear and trembling rightly dividing the word of truth, as we see how far we come we anticipate hope for more understanding in his love in his kindness in the mystery of the gospel so that we can be more relevant to the truth of God always giving him glory praise and thanks.

  4. Price says:

    Best connection you’ve made with faith and salvation for all of God’s people since the beginning that I’ve read yet.. Excellent.

  5. rich constant says:

    J, new line now read the first nine verses of 1st Corinthians.
    See if your perspective has changed it what Paul is saying at all.
    I think that’s what they call the Meta narrative. or what we’ve been calling or what I’ve been calling the relevance to the Jews and Gentiles of that day.
    now then comes the fun part.
    you got to go through the whole New Testament read the whole New Testament because now it’s different.
    I might not have got you on those 6 vs the other day.
    but I bet I get you with this one.
    too much fun J enjoy yourself Thanks

  6. rich constant says:

    How’s it said living an active as a two-edged sword.
    Dividing asunder soul and spirit something like that.
    might want to look up the explanation on that two edged sword ( GOD’S WORD) that’s an interesting one.
    just that it was so long ago I can’t remember.
    about all I got is what I’m trying to get you to do because of what you’ve done In understanding the gospel

  7. rich constant says:

    Just try Hebrews chapter sIx 1 through 5.
    and then ask yourself why has this happened.
    Then go read the last few verses of chapter v and what happenEd… we’ve been reading or exercising our mind in the word of righteousness learning to Discern both good from evil.
    now then to keep your conscience clean got to read the whole book of Hebrews you’ll never know how many giggles I’m getting.
    and now you understand why I only read the NET Bible

    now then J go back over to first Corinthians the second chapter.
    now read that one and you’ll see the joy that set before you.

  8. Monty says:

    What a blessing to be saved by faith, and not law keeping, to have trusted in Jesus and being identified with Christ in his death and to be raised up a new creature, redeemed and whole, having sins washed away, the Holy Spirit given and to be clothed in His righteousness, to be one with He and the Father as well with all fellow believers(the family of God) through this being “born again” process. To become Abrahams’ seed by being in Christ. Let all the redeemed say so.

  9. Dwight says:

    I think the reality is that we cannot be saved by law keeping, but we can be damned by law breaking. And thankfully we have repentance and forgiveness and Jesus as our mediator.

  10. rich constant says:

    Heres an interesting question question J that you’re bringing up.
    Exactly whose Faith are we to emulate.
    now Romans fourth chapter Verse 9.
    Says Abrahams faith was imputed (credited) to Abraham AS Righteousness..
    what I find interesting is when you go down to Verse 16…
    specifically in verse 16.
    Of the Faith of Abraham.
    is the exact same Greek phrase as used in Romans the third chapter going to go with 26 B
    that he might be the just and the justifier //of the one who has faith in Jesus number one….
    number 2NET Bible who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.
    number 3 this is the one that I think it is.
    the one who is Of the of Jesus.

    I see no reason to change the subjective genitive.
    contextually of course which means you get to read romance again go figure.
    to say nothing of Imputed righteousness after the promise Has been fulfilled / come and the faith has once for all been delivered to the Saints that Covenant was fulfilled at the cross resurrection.

    so what I am specifically saying here.
    chapter 4:16 “fAith of Abraham”
    is exactly the same words in Romans chapter 3 26b
    Chapter 3:26 B
    Of the Faith of Jesus.
    this enhances the whole 19 through 31 message anyway the way I see it.
    and that’s with a capital “Today”
    and if that’s true then this affirms that this is the Trinity’s work that we’re speaking about .
    which is the Trinities work through faithfulness.
    maintaining the conTexts of chapter 3 through intrinsic righteousness 22 and subjective faithfulness 22b
    just a little more to pile on your plate there bro.
    Blessings rich

  11. rich constant says:

    you know I don’t know any French either J
    although I’ll say this hoping the voice activation picks up on it
    New line
    New line
    Bon Appetit brother…

  12. rich constant says:

    Was God’s work that Jesus went to the cross.
    and Jesus became a mercy seat through his blood through faith.
    folding chapter 3 in context I am being pushed to think that that is God’s faith anyway that goes back to the exact Greek scriptures and I ain’t nowhere close to that I’m sure somebody is

  13. rich constant says:

    Your last paragraph J let’s have a look at what you’re saying there.

    did Satan the deceiver know the law.
    did the Pharisees &Sadducees know
    they were experts.
    know what happens when you get put on a cross you get cursed what happens when you die cursed you stay,cursed. they knew they had Jesus in a catch 22
    with his
    quote unquote
    Messiah. business

    You have to just love Psalms chapter 2.

    “The one inthroned in the heavens LAUGHS in disgust”
    you pretty much have to think to do Jews knew that he would be cursed and DIE cursed on the tree!

  14. rich constant says:

    Hha yes the thought’S & intent of the heart…
    except they were just speaking how they might destroy Jesus…
    just another thought.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    (Rom 3:3-4 NET) 3 What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 Absolutely not! Let God be proven true, and every human being shown up as a liar, just as it is written: “so that you will be justified in your words and will prevail when you are judged.”

    (Rom 3:3 KJV) For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

    All the modern translations I’ve looked at translate “faithfulness of God” rather than “faith of God,” which makes much better sense. As you say, God, through Jesus, is being faithful to his covenant with Abraham.

    That leads to the translation–

    (Rom 3:21-22 NET) But now apart from the law the righteousness of God [near synonym with “faithfulness of God”](which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed– 22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,

    (Gal 2:16 NET) yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

    (Gal 3:22 NET) 22 But the scripture imprisoned everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given– because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ– to those who believe.

    (Phi 3:9 NET) and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness– a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

    Interesting how the NET Bible translates, influenced by New Perspective scholarship. I think they’re right. Makes better sense in light of covenant theology and avoids ugly redundancies.

    Phil 3:9 is especially intriguing.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    If I follow you, I agree. “Faith” and “faithfulness” are the same Greek word, and Paul and James would agree that true faith is a faithful faith — not perfect faithfulness, but the faith of someone with a circumcised heart, that is, a heart that loves God and obeys out of love rather than a fear of punishment (which would be self-love only).

    Hence, we learn faithfulness because we follow Jesus in his faithfulness– and Jesus follows God the Father in his faithfulness/righteousness. And God treats our faithfulness as righteousness — that is, he treats our desire and effort to be true to Jesus as sufficient even though it’s not — just as a Father treats his beloved child.

  17. Of course, the ultimate demonstration of the faithfulness of Jesus is the cross. As the Hebrew writer said,

    Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey.

    In this context, obedience and faithfulness are very similar. It is by his faithfulness that he is able to save those who believe and by his obedience that he was make perfect to be the savior of those who obey. Parallel thoughts!

  18. John F says:

    1 John 4:19 We love, because He first loved us. NASU We obey from love, we are faithful from love. If we do not obey, we do not have love — we become UNfaithful to love.

    The letter of 1John is the letter of loving obedience in the face of digression from the love of God expressed in the faithfulness of Jesus to the Father who imputes the faithfulness of Christ to those who have “put on Christ.” Simple

  19. rich constant says:

    Jay I been upset all day.
    Blessing bro
    Ohwell onward and upward n r study.

  20. rich constant says:

    don’t forget the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit that was given to us makes us holy and blameless in the sight of God we become the tabernacle the dwelling place of God in spirit and that is through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ as we are faithful and that is what Paul is saying in Galatians.
    We become A new creation we become part of the new creation that’s what Paul is saying in 2nd Corinthians 5 here and he knows Christ no longer in the flesh and so it becomes the word of redemption in earthen jars.

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